At just 23 years old, Simone Biles is already considered by many to be one of the greatest gymnasts of all-time. Her 30 combined Olympic and World Championship medals make her the most decorated American gymnast and the world’s third most decorated gymnast in history – only two and three medals short of women who have long since retired. She is the gymnast with the most World Championship medals and most World Championship gold medals with 25 and 19, respectively, and is one of a select few to have won both a World medal and Olympic medal in every event at a single competition. Simply put, Simone Biles is a certified legend – but her hard to fathom success in the sport was not earned without challenges or adversity. Unsurprisingly, however, no hardship or moment has ever been too big for Biles, making her a shining example of our motto – don’t do they, DUYU!
Born in Ohio, Simone Biles was placed in foster care at the tender age of three because her biological mother suffered from addiction and was in and out of jail. Tragically, her earliest memories were of hunger and fear. Thankfully, though, her grandparents came to adopt her not long after, and she eventually moved to Texas to live with them alongside her younger sister.
Growing up just outside of Houston, it didn’t take long for Simone Biles to discover gymnastics – or put more accurately, for gymnastics to discover her. During a daycare trip to a gymnastics club when she was six years old, Biles began to imitate the movements of the other gymnasts, drawing the attention of the instructors. Before she knew it, she was sent home with a letter to her parents imploring them to allow her to join the club, and she would end up spending the next 11 years of her life there refining her natural ability. The more time she spent at the gymnastics club, the more apparent her rare talent became, and her parents made the difficult but wise decision to homeschool her after primary school so she could devote more time to training.
A gymnastics savant, Simone Biles wasted little time finding victory in competition. At the age of 13, she won gold in floor exercise and bronze in vault at the Women’s Junior Olympic National Championships. In 2012, her final year competing at the junior level, she dominated the domestic circuit – winning the all-around events at the Alamo Classics, the US Secret Classic, the Houston National Invitational, and the American Classics.
Although Biles was too young to compete at the 2012 London Olympics, that barrier hardly prevented her from continuing to make a name for herself in gymnastics. In 2013, her first year at the senior level, she won the all-around title at her first World Gymnastics Championships, becoming the first African American woman to hold the honor. She also won gold in the floor exercise, silver in vault, and bronze in balance beam.
“I was built this way for a reason, so I’m going to use it.”
Biles’ signature vibrant personality and high degree of difficulty she showcases in her routines is a large part of what makes her so special, but those factors combined with her unconventional background led some to question her merit. THEY SAID she didn’t belong. Simone Biles didn’t care. She continued her meteoric rise in gymnastics, winning a staggering four gold medals at the 2014 World Championships – the women’s team competition, the individual all-around, balance beam, and floor exercise events. She also took her silver in vault.
The following year, Biles won her third consecutive all-around title, winning gold in the balance beam and floor exercise along with bronze in vault at the World Championships. Those wins brought her career total to 14 World Championship medals – the most ever by an American gymnast, male or female. Moreover, her 10 World Championship gold medals were the most by a female gymnast in the sport’s entire history.
“We can push ourselves further. We always have more to give.”
By the summer of 2016, Biles was ready to compete in her first Olympics and she did not disappoint in Rio. She started off by leading the United States to gold in the team event before winning gold in the individual all-around. She then won gold in the floor exercise and vault events, joining elite company in being one of only a handful of female gymnasts to win four gold medals at a single Olympics. To top it all off, she placed bronze in the balance beam. Finally, and to no one’s surprise, Simone Biles had outshined her competition on the world’s biggest stage. As has been a prominent theme throughout her career, it took only her first attempt to leave no doubts about her greatness.
Following her dominance at the Olympics, Biles took a much-deserved break from professional competition. Two years later, she revealed that she had been one of the many victims of former U.S. national gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who notoriously sexually abused young female athletes. As more and more victims came forward, one could not imagine the pain associated with revisiting and unpacking the trauma of such deplorable abuse. It would have been completely understandable for Biles to never compete again within the system that empowered and turned a blind eye to such a monster.
“I’d rather regret the risks that didn’t work out than the chances I didn’t take at all.”
Admirably, Biles returned to competition that very year in a major way – remarkably becoming the first female gymnast in over 25 years to win gold in all five events at the U.S. National Championships. In doing so, she claimed a record-setting fifth all-around title. Later that year, she became the most decorated female gymnast in World Championships history by winning six more medals – four gold, one silver, one bronze. With the Tokyo Olympics around the corner, we have no doubt that Biles will continue to shatter records, rewrite history, and earn the eternal reverence of the sports world.
Simone Biles is a champion in every sense of the word – while her monumental and unprecedented success speaks for itself, it is her awe-inspiring ability to consistently overcome adversity and seize the moment that truly makes her a star. Who knows how her career might have turned out had she submitted to the hardships in her life or listened to her detractors. Simone Biles never DID THEY and neither should you. “Don’t do they, DUYU!”